Derek Chauvin Trial Juror Speaks Out: ‘I Could Feel Their Pain’
She was known as Juror 96 and sat through three weeks of testimony, but Lisa Christensen didn’t get to decide Derek Chauvin’s fate. She was selected as an alternate.,
MINNEAPOLIS — Lisa Christensen stood feet from the blue angel painted on a patch of pavement she had become intimately familiar with over the past month. Under the spittle of rain droplets, she clasped her hands in front of her chest and said a prayer to George Floyd.
“I hope we gave him justice,” she said. “Hope he’s looking down and proud of what the jury did, that we did our best, that we didn’t disappoint him.”
Ms. Christensen, 56, was one of the 14 jurors in the Derek Chauvin trial, and over three weeks of testimony, this South Minneapolis intersection was the backdrop for the trauma she had to watch nearly every day — gruesome video footage of Mr. Chauvin pressing his knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck.
On Friday, she visited the intersection, known as George Floyd Square, for the first time.
“This makes it really real,” she said, before resting a colorful bouquet of flowers among the many items memorializing Mr. Floyd and other people killed by the police.
It was in many ways a bookend to a singular experience, a front-row seat to one of the country’s most consequential police killing cases. Through 45 witnesses and the arguments of the lawyers, she sat anonymously on the 18th floor of a courthouse in downtown Minneapolis, referred to only as Juror 96.
Her experience ended abruptly after closing arguments, when the judge, Peter A. Cahill, told her and another juror that they were the alternates, who step in when another juror is unable to continue serving for any reason.
None of the 12 jurors who deliberated and decided Mr. Chauvin’s fate have chosen to speak out, so Ms. Christensen’s description of how she saw the trial is the only insight into how members of the jury perceived the case.
After naming the two alternates, the judge offered to arrange counseling for them if needed and asked for their thoughts on the case. He then sent them home while the remaining 12 jurors were sequestered in a hotel room to deliberate.
Ms. Christensen was then free to discuss the case, and on Friday she seemed to shed her status as a dispassionate juror, instead leaning into advocacy for Mr. Floyd. At the memorial, she stood among signs declaring “Black lives matter” and “Justice for George Floyd.” She carefully circled a sculpture of a fist in the middle of the intersection and reflected on why she believed that the jury did the right thing.
The prosecution’s medical experts convinced her that Mr. Chauvin had murdered Mr. Floyd by kneeling on him and depriving him of oxygen. So she agreed with the verdict that found Mr. Chauvin guilty on all three charges, including second-degree murder.
The expert witnesses the defense called only weakened its case in her eyes.
When one of them, Barry Brodd, a police expert, suggested that someone could rest comfortably in the prone position, facedown on the pavement, it angered her because it seemed like a ridiculous assertion in this context, she said. Then came the defense’s medical expert, Dr. David Fowler, Maryland’s former chief medical examiner. She did not buy his explanation that a combination of drugs, pre-existing medical conditions and even carbon monoxide was to blame for Mr. Floyd’s death.
“I just don’t think it was real believable,” Ms. Christensen said of the defense’s case. “At that point, I felt like they were just trying to say anything. Kind of like, let’s just throw everything out there and see what sticks to the wall.”
Ms. Christensen, who said she entered the trial having seen very little of the video of Mr. Floyd’s murder, described an experience that was more taxing than she could have imagined. It was filled with unexpected twists, from the mundane — a mini-crisis when the Cheetos ran out in the jury room — to the extraordinary, when a police officer killed a 20-year-old man six blocks from her home in the suburb of Brooklyn Center.
“It was more emotional and more draining than I thought,” she said of her jury service.
Very little was ordinary about this trial. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, very few people were allowed in the courtroom. And because of the high-profile nature of the case, jurors were anonymous and had to be shuttled in and out of the courthouse as discreetly as possible.
Before court each day, jurors convened at meeting places outside of Minneapolis, depending on where they lived, Ms. Christensen said. Her meeting spot was behind a sheriff’s outpost in Brooklyn Park. (The other gathering points were at sheriff’s facilities in Plymouth and Golden Valley, and a public works facility in Bloomington, she said.)
The jurors would load into vans with out-of-state license plates that would drive them to the courthouse’s underground parking lot, within an area fortified by temporary fencing.
Ms. Christensen, who is white, said that while she felt Mr. Chauvin was in the wrong, she did not view the case through the larger prism of racial justice. She believes that there is a problem with racism in the country, but said she was not well versed on the nuances of it.
She recently got into a dispute with her roommate, who is Black, when she asked him why Mr. Floyd and other people do not just comply with police commands. “Several times they had to say, ‘Get out of the car’ or ‘Put your hands on the steering wheel.’ And for whatever reason, he just didn’t do it.” But she said that even if she did not understand Mr. Floyd’s resistance, he was treated improperly by the officers.
Her feelings were solidified during the testimony of Dr. Martin J. Tobin, a pulmonologist called by the prosecution.
“He pointed out exactly when Mr. Floyd took his last breath,” she said. “So that was powerful. And then I feel like all the doctors that the prosecutors presented pretty much said the same thing in so many different ways. I feel like they all came to the same conclusion.”
Asked if there was a moment when she doubted the prosecution’s case and thought that maybe Mr. Chauvin was not guilty, Ms. Christensen was unequivocal: “No.”
If the medical experts were decisive for her regarding Mr. Floyd’s cause of death, Ms. Christensen said testimony from bystanders helped her to understand how out of line Mr. Chauvin was. Sitting close to the witness box, she teared up at times when witnesses cried as they recalled seeing the life slowly pressed out of Mr. Floyd. One moment in particular that got to her, Ms. Christensen said, was when a girl on the stand fought back tears, but her chin quivered.
“I could feel the guilt,” she said. “I could feel their pain.”
And the reaction of the bystanders made the actions of Mr. Chauvin and the other officers there seem all the more perplexing, she said.
“How can all these different people stand on the sidewalk and notice there is something wrong in this situation — I mean, even a 9-year-old could tell you something was wrong,” she said. “How come grown officers, that this is your profession, you’ve had multiple hours of being trained, that you guys can’t tell there’s something wrong?”
Ultimately, it felt like Eric J. Nelson, Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer, could not offer any good explanation for Mr. Chauvin’s actions in the nine minutes and 29 seconds he knelt on Mr. Floyd, she said.
And she did not believe that Mr. Chauvin could have explained it away, so she said it was probably a good idea that he did not testify on his own behalf.
“I don’t think he comes across as like a likable kind of guy,” she said. “And maybe that’s just because we’ve seen the video so many times and that picture. Him sitting in the courtroom, he just gave off a cold vibe.”